New Plasan Wilder is groundbreaking mid-engined armoured vehicle

“Self-driving in the battlefield environment is very different to civilian autonomy,” said Kahn. “The challenges are very different: the vehicle can go anywhere, but there’s no infrastructure, like white lines for guidance.”

The Wilder or some of its technology might yet find a place in the British Army, since Plasan is one of several companies competing in Project Thesius, a field trial of autonomous technology to replace manned vehicles for the final mile of transport into hostile environments.

UK-based Horiba MIRA has already won contracts to supply unmanned self-driving Viking 6×6 vehicles, similar to Plasan’s Atemm, to the British Army for trials.

Although the Wilder can be operated remotely (and in future in autonomous mode), it can also be conventionally driven into combat with four soldiers in its hull (resistant to rifle bullets), while its relatively light weight of 4.5 tonnes and compact footprint make it airportable by Chinook helicopter.

Power comes from a 159bhp 2.8-litre Cummins turbodiesel engine, mated to a ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox, driving both axles and capable of taking it to a limited 75mph.

When linked to the rigidly mounted Atemm (which makes manoeuvring easier for untrained drivers), the Wilder can draw power from it in three modes: Power (for pushing), Eco (a hybrid model to extend range) and Regeneration (to recharge the battery pack).

“We’re working on machine-learning that will know the route and switch between modes automatically for the best mission performance,” Kahn added.

Under the skin

Attem

Built around a 47kWh battery and a 34bhp, 738lb ft electric motor, the Atemm can drive the Wilder forwards or backwards. When coupled to a second Atemm, it can operate silently as a 4×4 autonomous weapons platform.

Lower body

Plasan’s monocoque body of Stannag 2-rated composite armoured panels and bulletproof glass weighs 1500kg, has a roomy interior accessed by a pair of wide-opening doors and supports both the front and rear subframes.

Packaging

The Wilder places the passenger compartment, with its one-plus-three seating and helicopter-like driver visibility, at the front of the vehicle, with the engine amidships, clearing space above the engine for a useful loadbay.

Front suspension

The front end gets the same wishbone set-up as the rear to reduce costs and simplify assembly. It’s also shared with the Atemm to ease spare-part support and maintenance. The steering is electrohydraulic, the turning circle 15 metres.

Rear suspension

The double-wishbone rear suspension has very long (370mm) travel, possible because of patented ‘crosslinked’ driveshafts. It’s fabricated from simple tubes to allow for easy setting up of local assembly. Rear-steering is optional and aimed at manoeuvrability in urban and forested areas.

Q&A: Nir Kahn, global vehIcle design director, Plasan

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Julian Rendell